People often get the (false) impression that I’m an extrovert.
There are so many reasons for this: I’m talkative with strangers. I like being on stage. I frequently find myself taking charge of groups. I travel full-time. I’m constantly meeting new people. I feel mostly at ease introducing myself to someone new.
I’m also not shy.
And somehow the idea of shy and introverted have gotten tangled up together like they’re the same thing. But they’re not. Introverted means you get your energy from alone time. Shy is when you’re nervous or timid with other people.
So I’m definitely not shy. Which people assume means I’m also not an introvert.
And that’s where they’re wrong.
When it comes to energy, I need hours upon hours of alone time to replenish mine. I need quiet rooms with a snuggly Luna at my side and no one else. I need days spent wandering along hiking trails solo and I revel in meals eaten by myself.
I love meeting new people and I’m happy to spend time with groups. But they take my energy; they don’t give it. And to get it back, I have to sneak away.
Which might strike you as odd, since I’ve been traveling the world full-time for six years now.
Because I think people get the idea–from social media and online itineraries and travel blogs–that travel is a whirlwind of one thing after the other. It’s 10 museums in a single day. It’s 20 new people in the course of a week. It’s constant time spent in the company of strangers.
But the truth is that travel is a lot of things—and not just the things that lend themselves to extroversion.
Where one person may want to visit three countries in a week and spend every moment pounding the pavement seeing the sights, I usually find my own travels are much quieter and slower and very intentionally full of alone time.
Which is the point I wanted to make today.
I think there’s a lot of pressure that can come with travel. Pressure to see everything and do everything and not “waste” a single second because we only have so many moments in this place.
But the truth is that travel should be what you need it to be. And if what you need is a luxuriously quiet day alone in your lovely B&B room, why is that less valuable than shopping on 5th Avenue or taking a food tour through one of Rome’s residential neighborhoods?
If finishing your book in a hot tub alone sound good, why does that have to make you feel guilty?
When I first started traveling like this, I used to get messages almost every day from family and friends. “What did you do today?” They asked, excited, waiting for some epic story.
At first I felt bad when I answered. Because my life wasn’t full of epic stories. Most days, the answer was that I worked and I ate a weird, new kind of cereal and I lay in the quiet of my guesthouse room and let the relief that I’d really done it—I’d really left my old life behind!—wash over me. Some days I hiked along pretty, green trails. Some days I went shopping in Edinburgh’s old town. But mostly I just existed, just did normal everyday things that I always do—just doing them against a different backdrop, with a different cereal aisle, with a different hiking trail.
The beauty of it was all the space I had. The space to work or not work on any given day. The space to meander aimlessly for hours in a new place. The space to explore, yes. But also the space to give myself permission to be alone.
I read a blog post once about a woman in Paris who found that one day she just wanted to stay in her hotel and finish a novel. But she felt terribly guilty. After all, she was in Paris. Shouldn’t she be touring the Louvre?
And I found myself physically shaking my head at the suggestion.
Because there is no should.
There is no required amount of hours you need to spend exploring on your trip.
It’s okay to be an introvert who needs down time in between things.
Hell, it’s okay to be an extrovert who wants a little down time.
Which is, I suppose, what I wanted to say here:
Travel, and particularly full-time travel, isn’t just for extroverts. It isn’t just for people with long checklists of things to see. It isn’t just for fast travelers. It isn’t just for any one type of person.
It’s a pliable thing that you can form into whatever you need it to be.
For me, this means some days spent running around town seeing the sights, some days where I gather up my energy and head to a theme park or a full-day tour of some sight I want to see. It also means some days where I don’t leave the house except, perhaps, for a walk in the park or a quick trip to the grocery store.
And most days, it means something in between.
When Chad and I went to Assisi for our first anniversary, we’d explore a few hours in the morning, head back in the afternoon for several hours of napping and reading, and then head back out and explore some more.
When we visited Dinan, we took the mid-morning train, arrived just in time for a fabulous lunch, then spent about three hours walking the ramparts and wandering through old town before taking the early train back home to spend our evening hours in the quiet of our rental house.
In other words, we take breaks. We schedule in quiet time. We don’t force ourselves to explore from dawn ’til dusk.
And our travels work for us because of that.
Thank you! This is what I’ve been trying to tell my family. I’m an introvert, and when I was younger I was painfully shy. Now that I’m not so shy, they seem to think I’m no longer an introvert. They don’t believe me when I tell them that all the nights I spent camping on the Camino wasn’t difficult because I enjoyed being alone.
Thank you for articulating this so well. Sometimes, we just need to have another person say it.
Yes! It’s so hard for people to wrap their heads around.
YES! I do believe travel should be what you want it to be. And sometimes it’s nice to hang out at your B&B and read or write or sip a cup of tea and watch the world go by. I too am more introverted than extroverted (which has changed as I’ve gotten older as I used to be more extroverted). I need that time alone. And I love to travel alone. So many people don’t get this. Thanks for articulating it so well, Gigi.
Me too! I think I was quite a bit more extroverted in my college years (though I was still never as high energy as many of my friends and I did like to retreat for some alone time even then).
Hi Gigi, I think it’s the difference between travelling full time as a life choice and taking a limited time vacation. On vacation, with work piling up for your return, a person wants to see the sites and experience all a new destination has to offer in that limited time. Travelling as a lifestyle, means travelling slower with more time to sit in the evening with a cup of tea or glass of wine and relax. Travelling slower also means getting to know neighbourhoods and the people in them which is an extra bonus to me who is also an introvert. Receiving a smile from an owner operated shop and a welcome because they recognize you is heartwarming, especially when travelling alone.
I think that’s definitely true for some, but even when I’ve traveled faster and been on vacation, I’ve noticed I need a lot more down time/me time than my friends. I still remember coming back to hostels for naps when I was traveling in my twenties and the friends I was with never needed to.
Yeeeeeesssssssss!!!!!!!!! This Russia trip we’re just wrapping up has been exhausting. I totally understand why the company had loads of activities & tours for people all the time, but we hardly did any & we were still wiped out because it was so hard to get alone time. We skipped the Hermitage in St Petersburg because 1) too many people & 2) we don’t enjoy art museums. People thought we were crazy for skipping one of the best, most famous museums in the world. But really, if I’m not going to enjoy it, why would I waste my time? I can’t travel like that, the gogogo of it all, and I’m happy to skip things without feeling guilty.
Oh man, so agreed. I’ve also given up on certain types of attractions. Even if it’s the best in the world, museums are generally just not for me. Same thing with castle interiors (unless they’re ruins; I love ruins). Spending my time and money on them just isn’t something I enjoy.
I’m a newly full time traveler and totally relate to this! I’ve actually found it fairly easy to strike a balance that works for me (thankfully!) I tend to take my alone time in the afternoons when the hostels are empty and quiet, after venturing out for a sight in the morning or even something as simple as a new coffee shop if I want a down day.
I have to say, you’ve been such a huge influence on how I’m traveling! I appreciate every post. I’m in Ljubljana now and I think you’d approve ;)
Yay! Ljubljana is the BEST! I hope you’re having a great time and glad to hear you’ve found a balance that works for you.
I haven’t had the opportunity to travel as much as I wish I could and I have suffered from jumping around cities too much, because the world is so big and who knows if I’ll be able to go somewhere again. My husband said he probably doesn’t want to go back to a place, also because the world is so big and there’s so many places he wants to go… it was making me nervous and frantic so, knowing we can’t see it all we decided that, well, we just can’t see it all and that some things we will just have to save for next time, whether or not there is a next time! I feel much better now.
Yes! I always give myself mental permission to go back. It takes so much of the pressure off.
I’m one LOUD introvert.
Me too sometimes.
Usually, I live in one place for at least a year, but I still often feel guilty for not going out enough. I am content to work at my house, though, and don’t usually feel lonely.
Here in Indonesia, the one thing that sort of drives home that I am not conforming is all the announcements from the neighborhood mosque. Mostly it’s the call to prayer, but there are actually a myriad of other community activities such as women’s groups, group work (like sweeping), group walks (that start at 6am, and always with an amplified announcement), etc, etc.
I am shy and an introvert, so those kinds of activities would take a lot of energy for me to be part of, especially as I am very obviously not from here. Mostly, I wonder how people in the neighborhood get their other stuff done if they’re doing all those things! :-)
I like your perspective about how there are no “shoulds.” I’ll remember that next time someone is questioning me relentlessly about what I did with my day (no doubt expecting ‘exotic’ tales of non-stop out and about-ness.) –but Gigi said!!
Haha, yes! Just tell them I said so. ;)
I’m an introvert and I love traveling solo. Sometimes people always ask me why you travel solo? Do you feel bored when traveling solo? And they don’t understand that I can fully relax, enjoy the scenes and every moments.
Anyway, thank you for this post and keep up your excellent work Gigi. Love your blog :)
Yes! I actually really loved being solo when I first hit the road. All that luscious alone time was really healing.
Your blog came along in an email and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I tend to live and work abroad (from US) for many months to years at a time in one place. But they tend to be large cities, because I work in the construction field. Years ago, I had an anxiety attack on my way to work one morning on the Tube in London (3 yrs into living there). Came to your same conclusion. Now, it’s just a matter of shaping my career to give more time off and find contract work further away from cities. Thanks for honestly sharing!
So very glad to help!